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Johnson's Russia List
24 December 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. The Guardian (UK): Jonathan Steele, Boxing clever. The startling results
of the elections can be traced to the shocking bias of the media.
2. BBC MONITORING: ELECTIONS POINT RUSSIA TOWARD 'SOFT DICTATORSHIP' -
3. AP: Russian Army Said Looting Villages.
4. RFE/RL: Sophie Lambroschini, Consumers Rediscover Domestic Products.
5. Roger Hamburg: #3706/Chechnya.
6. Timothy Colton: Commentary on elections.
7. Tom de Waal: Comment on Ware, JRL 3704.
8. Itar-Tass: COMMUNIST'S Son and REFORMER'S Father Dies in Moscow.
9. Moscow Times: Viktor Rodionov, Voting Brings Us Hope.
10. Financial Times (UK): Andrew Jack, Citizens take gamble with votes.
11. Bloomberg: Russia's War in Chechnya Too Costly, World Bank Directors
12. Reuters: Democracy takes root in ex-Soviet states.
13. IntellectualCapital.com: Richard Pipes, Portents of the Russian
The Guardian (UK)
23 December 1999
[for personal use only]
The startling results of the elections can be traced to the shocking bias of
Jonathan Steele in Moscow
Jonathan Steele was an observer for the European Institute for the Media.
Not all of the views expressed here are the institute's. Its findings are on
its website: www.eim.de
If there was any hope that last Sunday's vote for the Russian parliament
might end the bombing of Chechnya, the poll's shock result has killed it. As
they freeze in the railways wagons which pass for shelter in Ingushetia or
huddle in fear in the basements of Grozny, the civilians of Chechnya now know
they are doomed to six more months of hell. So too are Russia's conscripts.
The Kremlin's political strategy has been so stunningly successful that it is
bound to continue until the presidential elections next summer. Why should
Boris Yeltsin's advisers, the small group of cynical men known as the
"family", abandon a mechanism which has done so well on its first trial?
With astonishing brilliance prime minister Vladimir Putin and his cronies
exploited the widespread desire for revenge after the terrorist bombings in
Moscow and other cities in September. First, they used it to justify a
full-scale war on Chechnya. Then they created an electoral instrument which
hijacked the campaign agenda.
The issues which Russians never stop discussing in their kitchens - the
social effects of the criminalised privatisation process, the collapse of the
public health service, the corruption of government officials, and the
bankruptcy of vast swaths of industry - were cast aside.
Imagine a party which emerges out of nothing two months before voting day,
has no manifesto, publishes no proposals, and avoids debating its opponents.
Obviously a non-starter, you would say.
Not in a country where the two main television networks are in the hands of
the very men who created this phantom party. Known as Unity and with a bear
as a symbol, it has almost no existence beyond the television screen.
When Yeltsin was re-elected president three years ago, after starting the
campaign with a public opinion rating of less than 10%, observers from the
EU-financed European Institute for the Media criticised the massively
one-sided coverage on state television. This time, monitors not only noted
similar bias. They also denounced the overwhelmingly dirty coverage.
On ORT, the biggest channel, Unity got twice as much news time as
Fatherland-All Russia, the main centrist block. While the pro-Putin block's
mentions were consistently positive, the reporting of Fatherland was loaded
with negative comment. In 1966 ORT suppressed the news that Yeltsin had
suffered a heart attack four days before the voting, but this time it
unashamedly repeated the claim that Fatherland's leader, 70-year-old Yevgeny
Primakov, was too old and ill to be credible. ORT also gave disproportionate
and largely favourable coverage to the ultra-nationalist Vladimir
Zhirinovksy, who usually supports the Kremlin in the Duma. The government
feared his party might not get over the 5% barrier needed for seats in
Russia's long-running economic crisis has taken a hard toll of the country's
national newspapers and their circulation is barely 10% of the 1990 level.
Although their influence is much smaller than television, they reflected the
same kind of bias. It even shocked some government officials. Vladimir
Grigoriev, the deputy minister for press, televison, radio and mass media,
told the monitors: "No one expected such a violent and fierce campaign or the
use of such unimaginably dirty tricks."
As the results emerged, Anatoly Chubais, the millionaire businessman who
masterminded the privatisation process, was quick to put out the spin which
the Kremlin hopes western governments will lap up. For the first time since
1989, Russia will have a parliament not dominated by the Communist party so
the poll was another successful step in the transition, he said. His remarks
were a ploy to move the goalposts, since the election campaign had not been
Moscow's quiet band of war opponents hoped for a strong showing by Fatherland
in the belief that the apparently monolithic facade in favour of the war
could split once the election was over. During the campaign Yevgeny Primakov
gave cautious hints of a change of line. He urged the government not to let
the bombing of Grozny alienate Chechen civilians and lose Russia its western
The Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov was deliberately ambiguous. He
criticised Yeltsin for the "criminal" decision to launch the first Chechen
war and said women and children must not suffer. But he also said terrorists
must be stopped and "we must support our forces". It was enough of a platform
from which, after the election, to attack the government and insist on a
ceasefire. Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the centrist faction Yabloko, had
called for negotiations. Their stands gave a chance for a centre-left
alliance in the Duma to form an anti-war front later.
Thanks to state television's biased election campaign, that now looks doomed
. The west should not allow simplistic anti-communist instincts to blind it.
This was not a victory for "democrats" and "reformers". It was ruthless media
manipulation by the war party.
ELECTIONS POINT RUSSIA TOWARD 'SOFT DICTATORSHIP' - NEWSPAPER
Source: `Segodnya', Moscow, in Russian 21 Dec 99
According to an article in the Russian newspaper 'Segodnya', the people who
voted for the Unity movement and the Union of Right Forces in the
parliamentary elections "do not have any ideology but love toughness". These
people regard Prime Minister Putin as tough and want to see him as next
president. The article says that this may result in "soft dictatorship" in
Russia. The following is the text of the article published on 21st December:
So the authorities for the first time since I don't know when have achieved
the almost impossible - if not a majority then at least approximate parity
with the opposition in the Duma. The Kremlin has elected itself a Duma. How
has this come about and what will be its upshot?
It came about in the usual manner, in accordance with the principle -
"there's no fathoming Russia". Caligula made his horse a senator while [Prime
Minister Vladimir] Putin made a huge pack of hungry bears [members of the
Medved (Bear) movement, also known as (Interregional) Unity (Movement)]
deputies. The triumph of a nonexistent and mute party, which explains that it
does not intend to get involved in such a dirty business as politics, is
Russia all over. The triumph of a party conceived several months ago is
simply explained: our idol and prime minister, whom nobody in the country had
heard of just six months ago, supported it. This too is Russia all over. And
the fact that these bears from nowhere, not brown or white bears but simply
bears of indeterminate colour, have declared themselves to be "liberal bears"
is similarly Russia all over.
The success of the "bears" is an absolutely traditional phenomenon. Like the
"bears" themselves, the people who voted for them do not have any ideology
but love toughness [krutizna - "toughness" or "hipness"] and hope for a slow
miracle while secretly quaking before the authorities. Such is "lumpen
Russia" (lumpen can also be very rich people). In 1993 they recklessly
plumped for Zhirinovskiy (miracle plus toughness), in 1996 for Lebed (ditto),
in 1999 for Unity-cum-Putin (ditto plus power, hence its big success). The
authorities have finally worked out how to win over "lumpen Russia" to their
cause: You have to give them an opportunity to finally do what they want,
give them an opportunity to love the authorities. But for this, the
authorities have to rejuvenate themselves, become (or appear) tough, and,
most important, shake off everyone's bugbear, Yeltsin. Which was achieved
with Putin's arrival.
The success of the URF [Union of Right Forces] can be explained in the same
manner. The liberals suddenly stopped appearing to be lily-livered
intellectuals spouting about "Chechens' human rights" but also appeared to be
tough, "liberals per se". The new liberal packing a patriotic punch is the
invention of Chubays. Hence the happy support of the happy young people.
Liberalism suddenly appeared to be fashionable, hip [krutoy]. And, of course,
the liberals were fielded once more by Putin who also showered them with his
Incidentally, I would not overestimate the mass media's role in the victory
of Unity and the URF. The power of mud-slinging on television is extremely
limited (see [Yuriy] Luzhkov's victory in Moscow and [Aleksandr] Nevzorov's
defeat in St Petersburg).
Be that as it may, the authorities have the "bears," the URF and LDPR-1
[Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] (Bear could rightfully be called
LDPR-2). The magnet of victory will also attract many independent deputies.
What will be the upshot of this? It seems that nothing stands between Putin
and the presidency. Moreover, with such a weak and easily controlled Duma, we
may get completely authoritarian presidential power, that is to all intents
and purposes a "soft dictatorship" which abides by all the technically
democratic and parliamentary procedures. It is very likely that this "soft
dictatorship" is Russia's only real chance of salvation.
Admittedly, for this, it is necessary for Kiriyenko's head to be attached to
Bear's body, that is for the right wing to think up the laws and LDPR-1 and
LDPR-2 to mechanically crank them out. And for this not to happen: "Khakamada
dancing on a ball" will only turn the spotlight on the gloomy Unity athletes
and distract them. In short, its shaggy body is represented by the "bears"
and its brain by the right wing. Will is needed to make it go anywhere.
Putin's will. Does he have any? And into what will it be directed?
Russian Army Said Looting Villages
December 23, 1999
By ANDREW KRAMER
SLEPTSOVSKAYA, Russia (AP) - The Russian soldiers forced their way into
Visani Bogatirov's house and took his dishes, food, blankets, shoes and a fur
coat. They stole his car and shot his tractor to pieces.
Later, the Russians came back and killed his cow, said the 54-year-old
refugee, sitting on a plank bed in a muddy and drafty tent in the Sputnik
refugee camp near the Chechen border.
According to multiple accounts by refugees, human rights workers and local
police, Russian soldiers have done more than wage war in Chechnya - they have
been engaged in widespread looting.
In some towns, soldiers have looted nearly every house, according to Peter
Bouckaert, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, a New York-based human
``We've spoken to people whose floorboards were taken'' for firewood, he
Soldiers help themselves to just about anything that can be loaded onto a
truck or a tank, but focus on food, bedding and warm clothes, he said. The
looting occurs most in villages that resisted Russia's advance, while other
villages have been left almost untouched.
The Russian army, for years beset by financial problems and now faced with
supporting about 100,000 soldiers in the Chechen operation, appears to be
living off the land, according to refugee claims.
The underfunded Russian military is short of supplies, soldiers sometimes go
without food and their clothing often is old and ragged. The abandoned
villages of Chechnya are an alluring target.
``You can't have that wide-scale looting and not have the command know about
it,'' said Bouckaert, who has interviewed hundred of refugees. ``There is at
least tacit approval.''
Bouckaert said allegations of soldiers killing civilians are linked to
incidents when residents attempted to stop the theft. These include multiple
refugee claims of more than 20 civilian killings in the town of Alkhan-Yurt,
near Grozny, in early December, the worst alleged Russian massacre of
civilians in Chechnya.
The Russian military says it is looking into some of the claims, but
generally rejects allegations that troops commit crimes of any sort.
The looting hasn't escaped the attention of local police, who witness the
mayhem but do not have authority over army troops.
Akhmed Khadiev, a policeman at a border post near the village of Novy Redant
in Ingushetia, a region bordering on Chechnya, said he sees soldiers carrying
off property in armored cars and trucks.
``They bring out televisions, building materials, livestock, everything,'' he
The experience recounted by Bogatirov was typical of the accounts by several
Army soldiers came to Bogatirov's house in Banki-Yurt on Oct. 16, he said.
The soldiers forced him to stand spread-eagled against the wall as they
loaded food, clothes and household items into an armored personnel carrier.
``I was quiet so they wouldn't kill me,'' he said.
The soldiers drove his tractor to a field and used it for target practice
with a grenade launcher, blowing up the engine.
The next day, soldiers shot his cow, cut off the hind legs to eat and left
the rest in a field, he said.
Unlike many refugees, Bogatirov lodged a complaint. Officials asked him to
identify the looters, and he pointed them out at a lineup in the street. But
he says he has heard nothing since and not received any compensation.
Russia: Consumers Rediscover Domestic Products
By Sophie Lambroschini
In recent years, the Russian economy has seen a mini boom in the production
and availability of domestically manufactured consumer goods. RFE/RL
correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports that many Russians see the trend as
a sign that their market is gradually becoming better adapted to their pocket
Moscow, 23 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In 1995 and 1996, one of the Communist
Party's favorite epithets for reformers was to call them the "Snickers
generation," implying they had sold out Russia to the West.
And for many Russians, the charge had resonance. Thanks to the opening of the
Russian market, every store from the humblest corner kiosk to the newest
supermarket was flooded with imported foodstuffs. To find a domestic product
amid the Western labels was so rare that many Russians considered it a small
triumphant sign that somewhere, despite everything, the Russian economy was
Today, that situation has dramatically changed. Russian-made goods are
increasingly in evidence, looking and tasting just like their Western
counterparts. And being a domestic product has become a positive selling
"Shock -- that's ours" is the slogan of a chocolate-covered caramel bar
suspiciously akin to an American one. It is as proudly home-made as another
product -- "Indian Tea" -- which is suddenly back after disappearing from
shelves for almost a decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The
familiar tea is being promoted by an ad promising that it is "the very same"
Economic experts say that the growing presence and success of domestic
products on the Russian market is the result of both renewed patriotic
feeling and simple economic logic.
Oleg Panoff is the executive vice-president of Maxima, one of Russia's main
advertising and communications firms. He says the locally produced goods --
and in particular fast moving consumer goods -- are increasingly becoming the
advertising industry's best business in Russia. He says the products are
booming because they are cheaper than Western goods and they appeal to
Russians who are becoming increasingly brand conscious.
"The brands that go into this category promise the biggest part of all
advertisement investments. You still have the mass markets where you buy
things in big quantities and where the main thing is to buy as cheap as
possible. But the structure of consumption is changing right under our eyes,
from month to month. People try to buy familiar brands because they trust
them. Those that go to the market always buy one vendor's [products]. The
role of a brand is then played by the vendor. But there will be a moment when
someone won't want to go to the mass market every time and will go and buy
the product in a store." Economic studies show that foreign brands are
steadily losing market share to the new domestic production. According to a
survey of 14 Russian cities by a German consumer institute, Gesellschaft fuer
Konsum, the share of foreign brands fell by half over the first nine months
of this year.
Analysts say this is the consequence of the August crisis when the food
market shrank by about 20 percent. While the hardest hit Russian consumers
relinquished all but bare necessities, another group looked for cheaper goods
and often found them in Russian products.
Some Russian products benefited strongly from the switch. Russian toothpaste
sales boomed 130 percent while imported brands crashed. And while consumption
of imported yoghurt brands fell by almost 90 percent, Russian yoghurts saw
their sales slide by just 17 percent.
But some studies indicate that the move to Russian brands is not just price
driven. A recent survey by another research group, F-Squared Market Research,
found that Russian consumers turn to domestic products when they are looking
for "wholesomeness" as their top priority. By contrast, they turn to Western
imports when they are looking for qualities such as "dynamism" or "solidity"
Meanwhile, Russian advertising agencies say they are racing to catch up with
the new consumer mood. Panoff says agencies are still far behind their
Western counterparts in creating ads that appeal to their own countrymen. He
says part of the difficulty lies in the fact that consumers themselves are
still in the process of defining what they want from Russian goods -- and
from the advertisements which sell them.
"In Russia advertisements either show a kind of cheap popular side, a
complete archaism, [such as] jumping, dancing [and] playing the balalaika.
Or, in other cases, they just copy the worst international advertisements."
The experience of Wimm-Bill-Dann shows how important being a "Russian"
product is in the new Russian market. The company started out a few years ago
as one of the first juice-producers in Russia using the brand name
"Tetra-Pak." At that time, the English sounding name was considered to
But now, Wimm-Bill-Dann is behind a series of dairy products running under
homey sounding names like "A House in the Country" and "Dearest My Dear." And
the company is doing well. The daily Moscow Times recently quoted marketing
agencies as saying Wimm-Bill-Dann now accounts for almost 50 percent of juice
sales while its milk is popular in 47 percent of the households in larger
Wimm-Bill-Dann's press-secretary, Yulia Belova, tells RFE/RL that while the
Russian economic crisis hit the company hard in 1998, today its sales are
going well. She says in the first half of this year it sold almost as much
juice as during the whole of 1998. The company also started exporting its
products to the Netherlands and Israel.
A growing chain of popular restaurants are using similar marketing tactics.
The warm interior of a Russian izba (log cabin) greets patrons to steaming
borsch and to pelmeni (Russian ravioli) with sweet cream or vinegar.
For many Russian consumers, the Russian menus and the Russian ingredients
spell an affordable evening out.
Arina Slepova goes to one of the chain restaurants once a month with her
husband. With their young baby and earnings the equivalent of four hundred
dollars a month, they can't afford big outings. But the "Russian" restaurants
offer them a chance to treat themselves.
Slepova says that three years ago for ordinary people "the only alternative
to a depressing stolovaya (cafeteria) was MacDonald's". She says the new,
affordable restaurant chains mean that she and her husband can "really going
out, with wine glasses, a tablecloth, and metal forks and knives."
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999
From: "Roger Hamburg" <email@example.com>
David, I found Simes's comments interesting re Chechnya. Let Putin know
that they can expect no more money to subsidize the fighting in Chechnya
but not do so so publicly that it poisons the well to a dangerous extent. I
know that mine is not a popular position but we have to maintain some kind
of relationship and resisit the temptation of academic and electoral
posturing. (Chechnya lends itself to both.) Putin says that the fighting
will be over soon. His political fate is on the line. Russian politicians
DO care about what voters think and that is a refreshing break from the
past. The war is popular right now because Russian voters even of the
liberal variety "feel good" as The Wall Street Journal reported in a very
perceptive piece featuring interviews with Chechens and Russian last Friday.
A case can be made that any Russian government had to respond to the attcks
in Dagestan. I have heard rumors that Yeltsin's people planted the
apartment bombs but I don't know if they are true and if anyone knows in
Washington they aren't saying.
I don't think that whatever the calls for Chechen independence there is not
much support for fracturing the Russian Federation the way that there was
to break up the U.S.S.R. A summary of a presentation at Kennan makes that
clear. So there is no basis for Putin fearing a "who lost Russia" chant.
Still,he is on the spot and if there are significant casuaties incurred in
a ground assault on Grozny or significant,prolonged guerrila operations in
the mountains after Grozny is "taken",that is if the guerrillas withdraw in
the face of "force majeure" Putin could sink quickly and with him Yedinstvo.
We have to warn diplomatically, avoid a "who lost Russia" debate, and hope
that Putin and Yeltsin and Sergeev? have made soundings to some Chechen
leaders like their president Mamadov whose inability to control
gangs,marauders,kidnappers,etc since 1996 helped lead to all this.
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999
From: Timothy Colton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Commentary on elections
Goodness, some of this stuff is terrible--bland and self-referential
descriptions of the obvious being cycled and recycled ad infinitum. None
of this is in any way your fault, but I believe we'd all be better off if a
fraction of the effort that goes into instant comment and info pumping went
into serious research and analysis of Russian and post-Soviet developments.
Timothy J. Colton
Director, Davis Center for Russian Studies
1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
From: "Tom de Waal" <email@example.com>
Subject: Comment on Ware, JRL 3704
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999
Comment on Robert Bruce Ware JRL 3704
I agree with Robert Bruce Ware that many Western commentaries on the North
Caucasus have been over-simplistic. But speaking as someone, who has set
foot in the region several times over the last few years, I would put many
of his comments into the same category. I am intrigued that Ware has
co-authored articles with the Dagestani sociologist Enver Kisriev, because
Kisriev gave a far more ambiguous picture of the situation in the North
Caucasus in a presentation at the Royal Institute for International Affairs
in London on 30 November. He spoke in Russian and it would be good to have
the English text of what he said published here.
At that seminar Kisriev and other North Caucasian specialists confirmed that
the Dagestani public is broadly supportive of the latest war in Chechnya and
other speakers from the region confirmed that the whole of the North
Caucasus was fed up with the lawlessness in Chechnya over the last three
years. However that view does not seem to extend to politicians and
specialists. After all they will be the first in line to take the
consequences, if and when things began to get out of control. All the three
main North Caucasian leaders Aushev, Dzasokhov and Magomedov, have
repeatedly called for dialogue with Maskhadov as the first prerequisite for
sorting out the Chechen issue. In his London talk, Kisriev drew attention to
the failed meeting between Maskhadov and Magomedov in September in
Khasavyurt, when Maskhadov was planning to offer a public apology to the
people of Dagestan for the incursions across the border. He suggested that
if that meeting had been allowed to take place, it would have made it much
harder for Putin to justify another invasion of Chechnya. (After the meeting
was abandoned Putin said that he now "loved" the people of Dagestan, who had
helped to prevent it happening). Maskhadov remains the only legitimate
leader of Chechnya and it is simply not true to say that he is "linked to
organized crime and kidnapping." On the contrary: he struggled for three
years to combat it, with almost no resources.
The key point surely is that almost the whole North Caucasus, including most
Chechens, would have welcomed an operation, which sought to deal with the
1,500 or so armed militants led by Basayev and Khatab and also the kidnap
gangs of Chechnya (who incidentally are not one and the same thing). Most
North Caucasians although not most Chechens would have welcomed a cordon
sanitaire around Chechnya. But this war is something quite different and is
rapidly turning into a repeat of the last one: a war against the Chechen
population as a whole. This is due to the brutal and indiscriminate
behaviour of the Russian generals and their armed forces, who are not known
for their restraint, racial sensitivity or inclination for peacekeeping. The
brutality of the operation is merely kick-starting a new cycle of violence,
destruction and deprivation, which will merely set back even further the
prospects for long-term political stability in Chechnya - and hence the
stability of the North Caucasus as a whole.
COMMUNIST'S Son and REFORMER'S Father Dies in Moscow.
MOSCOW, December 23 (Itar-Tass) - Timur Gaidar, a well-known Russian military
journalist died on Thursday of a serious disease. He was 73.
He was a son of Arkady Gaidar, regiment commander in the Red Army and author
of popular children's books, and the father of Yegor Gaidar, head of Russia's
first post-Soviet cabinet.
As a navy officer, Gaidar served in a submarine of the Baltic Fleet and
careered up to the rank of rear admiral. Later on he switched to journalism
and worked as Pravda war correspondent in Cuba and Yugoslavia. He also wrote
for Moscow News and Izvestia.
Gaidar was in Afganistan during the war in the 80s as he believed it was a
must for a war correspondent "to live with troops and write the truth about
our soldiers." He wrote numerous articles and a few books about that war.
In his writings, he tried to present an unbiased information about the
deployment of Russian troops in Afganistan.
December 24, 1999
Voting Brings Us Hope
By Viktor Rodionov
Viktor Rodionov is a former journalist for Pravda. He contributed this
comment to The Moscow Times.
So, we've gotten through another election. A real election, not just plain
old voting for one choice. Now, we have an unnaturally large choice. This a
reaction to decades during which the choices were made for us by bureaucrats.
I recall a time about 25 years ago when I was returning from the Tomsk
regional Communist Party conference. Next to me on the plane was a Central
Committee party instructor in that region, and he had a folder on his lap.
"I'm bringing the committee's findings on a candidate for the Supreme Soviet
of the Russian Federation," he told me. "It's a young woman, no party
affiliation, with a higher education. I think she's an adequate candidate."
His words were unnecessary. Everyone knew how these elections happened.
Applications were filled out: age, sex, party affiliation, occupation. How
many women would be in the Soviet, what percentage of the whole would be
non-party and other statistics were all decided beforehand. These
requirements would be passed by Moscow to the regional committees, which
would find candidates fulfilling them. In Omsk, that candidate was this young
woman. She was the single Communist/non-party candidate listed on the ballot
and could consider herself elected long before anyone voted.
In such a system, how to you explain the 99 percent voter turnout? Before
elections, so-called "agitation collectives" were formed. Each "agitator" in
the collective was assigned a group of people and it was his responsibility
to see that all of these people got out to vote. The agitators were required
to sit at the polling places until their very last voter came. Out of pity
for these unlucky agitators, most voters would cast their ballots early.
It was easy then. There was nothing to decide - you just dropped you ballot
in the box and the authorities did the rest. We called it our "civic duty."
Nowadays, you have to shore up patience just to read the candidate lists and
consider who will get your seal of approval.
To get this approval, candidates have to cultivate their voters. My own
former representative, Nikolai Gonchar, showered voters with phone calls and
sent people to come visit and ask us how we were doing. "Do you have any
problems? Let us help you solve them." As if there hadn't been enough time in
the last four years of his tenure to help.
We'd given him that chance.
In Russia, Duma deputies are often called on by voters to help out in various
civil matters, such as building maintenance, apartment issues and so on. For
this, the deputies hold office hours that are usually clogged with people
hoping for an audience.
So, a couple of years back, a number of my neighbors and I approached Gonchar
with some housekeeping questions of our own. Elections were far off, and
Gonchar was tired and bored. Nothing was solved. Word of his reaction got
around, and when his people called before the elections asking to help, we
My grandson took an active part in these elections. He always has. Throughout
his childhood, he came along when we voted. Now he's a few years older, and
his judgments have become more independent. In the last presidential
elections, he would march around out house repeating the slogan "communism
will not win."
But Yeltsin brought no good to anyone and our grandson, through Yeltsin,
gained an understanding of lies and unscrupulousness. He will have to take
his own stand: he can either join the hypocrites of this system or call for
honesty and fairness. Or he can leave the country as thousands of our
countrymen have. But he has Russia in his blood.
My family lived abroad for many years, and we had plenty of chances to say
farewell to our socialist paradise forever. But, unlike many who did leave,
we saw a place for ourselves in Russia. Even in the worst of times, I
considered it my duty as a journalist to open peoples' eyes to the world
around them. The opportunities for this were limited, but they were there.
We are living in this country at a critical time. It is finally pulling
itself out of the doldrums that it sunk into after the 1917 revolution.
Something extraordinary is happening - those things we thought we unshakable
and constant are being overturned. And this happened because the people were
ready for a change and made it happen.
Of course, all is not well in our house - the economic situation is
depressing and ways out are only just beginning to appear. The democratic
game shrouding the senile decrepitude of our leader could plunge the country
into the same abyss it reached in 1917. Its the kind of situation ripe for
the nationalism of Germany before World War II.
But we can be proud of this new Russia. It freed itself and other nations
from the lash of totalitarianism. It let the Germans reunite as one people,
and it is no longer known as the evil empire. We can hold our heads high for
Time has given Russia tasks that it did not see earlier. Russia has the
opportunity to become a great power indeed - not on the strength of missiles
but because of the quality of its citizen's lives. It will provoke the
respect, not the fear, of neighbors - neighbors who will wish to work with
it, not against it. I believe in this Russia. I am striving for it.
So what are we taking into the new century? How will we be understood by
other nations? The seeds of the answer were planted on Dec. 19.
Financial Times (UK)
24 December 1999
[for personal use only]
RUSSIA: Citizens take gamble with votes
By Andrew Jack in Moscow
Russia may be full of capitalists today, but its citizens took a gamble on a
Communist victory in last Sunday's parliamentary elections.
In a first for Russia's fledgling internet sector, a Moscow-based company
offered odds on the parliamentary race in the weeks leading up to last
Moscow Totalizator said on Thursday that more than 8,000 people had bet in
the pioneering initiative.
The company's background is largely in taking bets on sports racing, which is
proving increasingly popular as gambling takes off in Russia's uncertain
business and political environment.
A number of investment analysts tapped into the betting system on the
internet over the past few weeks to gain an assessment of how people would
vote by looking at the changing odds on offer - based on the assumption that
people might lie to ordinary pollsters, but they would vote in the way that
they placed their money.
Under Russia's tough new electoral laws, official opinion polls were banned
four days ahead of election day in an attempt to prevent the voters being
unduly influenced by each other's views, or by manipulation of the figures.
However, betting continued without any interference by the authorities on
Totalizator until Saturday lunchtime.
It was only shut down at that time for a very practical reason: against the
background of the lack of creditworthiness of most Russians, the company
would only accept bets made by cash transfer to the state-owned Sberbank,
which closed for business at 2pm on Saturday.
The internet service comes at a time of sharp growth in interest in the web
within Russia despite the high cost of computers for most ordinary Russians.
Next week for example, Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, plans to convene a
group of Russian internet experts to discuss the future.
The FSB, the successor body to the KGB, has also actively begun fibre
surveillance with a new law giving it authority to intercept electronic mail.
Judging by the results of Totalizator's figures, either Communists are
greater gamblers than their ideology might suggest, or betters voted one way
but considered that their fellow citizens would vote another.
By the close of betting on Saturday, the odds offered were not far off the
real results in the election, although the punters favoured the Communist
party over both Unity and the capitalist reformist SPS alliance.
Totalizator, however finished best of all, taking a 15 per cent commission on
all bets and claiming to have made a comfortable profits from its
undertaking. It plans to open odds for next June's presidential race in
Russia's War in Chechnya Too Costly, World Bank Directors Warn
Washington, Dec. 23 (Bloomberg)
-- World Bank executive directors warned Russia its war in Chechnya
could deplete the government's financial resources and scare away investors,
a bank spokeswoman said.
The ``economic, human and social costs of the conflict in Chechnya... could
be a significant drain on the budget,'' Gina Ciagne, a bank spokeswoman, said
several of the bank's 24 directors cautioned.
The directors, meeting last night to discuss the bank's lending strategy for
Russia for the next 18 months, said financing the war could displace
``expenditures that are critical for social programs and undermine investor
confidence,'' according to Ciagne.
The warning is the latest attempt to push Russia to reconsider its attack on
the breakaway republic of Chechnya, which the government says is intended to
root out terrorists. Earlier this month Michel Camdessus, managing director
of the International Monetary Fund, said he would take global concern about
the conflict into account when considering an IMF loan of $640 million, which
has already been delayed for months.
And foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations last
week called on Russia to declare an immediate cease- fire.
`End is Close'
So far, Russia's leaders have brushed aside those concerns, at least partly
because the war is gaining in popularity among the Russian people. Russian
forces are closing in on the Chechen capital of Grozny as air strikes
continue to pound the city, Russian media reported today.
``Close, close, the end is close,'' Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said
yesterday on NTV television.
The World Bank has been among Russia's biggest backers since the collapse of
the Soviet Union, having lent $11 billion to the country since 1992.
The bank's directors last night decided the bank's lending to Russia through
mid-2001 will increasingly focus on reducing poverty and ``institutional
barriers to growth,'' such as corruption, Ciagne said. They also approved a
$30 million loan to Russia meant to help regional governments collect taxes
and distribute government spending more efficiently.
A top Russian official applauded that step, saying the bank shouldn't let
``momentary considerations'' color its policies.
``It is extremely important for us that in this time of trials on the
domestic and international scene, the World Bank is discussing measures to
assist in Russia's economic development,'' said First Deputy Prime Minister
Viktor Khristenko. ``We think that cooperation with the World Bank cannot be
influenced by momentary considerations and is intended for a long-term
Yet the bank is increasingly concerned that the cost of the war in Chechnya,
and Russian military spending generally, will diminish the resources for
World Bank President James Wolfensohn sent a letter Tuesday to Human Rights
Watch, saying he is concerned about ``the human tragedy that is presently
unfolding in Chechnya and the lives and opportunities for development that
are lost as a result.''
Yet neither Wolfensohn nor the bank's directors agreed to the human rights
group's request that the bank hold up disbursement of $100 million in loans
meant to help the Russian government assess the social impact of selling or
closing state- owned coal mines. The bank could lend the money as soon as
next week, Ciagne said.
Deciding whether Russia has met conditions to get the loan payments is up to
the bank management, not its directors. The World Bank has ``not yet reached
a decision on the disbursement,'' Wolfensohn said in response to a letter
from Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth.
``The bank shouldn't finance the abusive and destructive conduct we are
seeing in Chechnya,'' Roth wrote to Wolfensohn last week. ``Russia's campaign
in Chechnya violates international law and undermines development, and the
bank should have no part in it.''
The U.S. government, the World Bank's largest shareholder, on Tuesday shelved
$500 million in loan guarantees to a Russian oil company. Though the
government said the move responded to commercial concerns, many analysts said
it was at least partly intended to urge Russia to stop the bombing.
INTERVIEW-Democracy takes root in ex-Soviet states
By Peter Starck
COPENHAGEN, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Russia's parliamentary election marked a step
forward in the transition to democracy, which is also taking root in many
other ex-Soviet republics, a senior Western election observer said on
``It is a slow process, like watching the grass grow, but as long as it is
growing then you are moving in the right direction,'' Spencer Oliver,
secretary-general of the OSCE parliamentary assembly, told Reuters in an
Oliver, who heads the assembly's Copenhagen-based secretariat, spent a week
in Russia with an OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe)
team monitoring Sunday's lower house, State Duma, election.
``For the first time people look at the Duma as a functioning parliament.
They see it as having power,'' Oliver said. ``We have noted steady
improvement throughout these four elections over a period of six years,'' he
The Communists suffered a setback but remained the biggest party with 113
deputies in the 450-seat Duma. The pro-Kremlin Unity group, formed a few
months before the election, was the big winner taking 72 seats, and the
centre-left Fatherland-All Russia bloc came third with 66.
Flaws identified by the OSCE and other international election observers
included strong government media bias in favour of the Unity party, Oliver
said. ``But even though you had some bias, it (the Russian media) is
pluralistic,'' he added.
Observers also saw cases of heavy-handed interference and quashing of
opposition candidates by some regional politicians.
``For the first time, the federative nature of Russia emerged in this
election. Governors and mayors and local officials got deeply involved in the
campaign. They wanted to send to the Duma people who would represent their
interests,'' Oliver said.
RUSSIA BEST, TURKMENISTAN WORST
The election showed that Russia was moving towards a stable democratic
system. ``I don't think they are there yet but they have come a lot further
than anyone would have expected seven or eight years ago,'' he said.
Russia has the most open and advanced electoral system of the ex-Soviet
states monitored by the 54-member OSCE. ``In the former Soviet Union, Russia
and Moldova are the most democratic, not counting the Baltic states...''
followed by Georgia and Armenia, Oliver said.
The OSCE's Central Asian members, lacking democratic traditions, have a long
way to go. No leader in the region has yet risked his power in open and free
elections, Oliver said.
``Turkmenistan shows no signs of moving towards democracy. They have this
single figure who dominates the scene and does not tolerate opposition,'' he
said of President Saparmurat Niyazov, the focus of a Soviet-style personality
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev also poses problems for OSCE election
watchers, though the other Central Asian nations are ``trying to do things
that will make them look more democratic, and eventually be more
democratic,'' Oliver said.
``You see progress because they want to be accepted and they are trying to
find ways to reach acceptable standards,'' he said.
Kyrgyzstan is showing the most positive development and its parliamentary
ballot on February 20 looks like becoming the first democratic election in
Central Asia, Oliver said.
Tajikistan, still grappling with the effects of an exhausting civil war, is
also trying very hard to move towards democracy, he said.
December 23, 1999
Portents of the Russian Election
by Richard Pipes
The Russian parliamentary elections are over and the results generally
matched expectations. The Communists, Russia's best organized party, once
again won the largest number of votes (nearly one-quarter), although their
share of the seats has fallen 25%. The next three largest parties, in order
of votes received have come into existence since 1995.
The new shape of the Russian Duma
The most successful of these, Yedinstvo or Unity, was created barely three
months ago by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and is generally perceived as
representing the interests of the Kremlin. The same applies to the Union of
Right-Wing Forces. Between them, the two pro-Kremlin parties gained one-third
of the vote. Fatherland-All Russia, the centrist party headed by ex-Prime
Minister Yevgeny Primakov and the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, won a
disappointing 12.6% of the vote. Finally, Yabloko, the only true liberal and
democratic party, headed by Grigory Yavlinsky, barely qualified to be
represented in the new parliament.
The outstanding fact of the election is the meteoric rise of Putin, an ex-KGB
spy and total unknown until a few months ago when Yeltsin nominated him as
his preferred successor. Putin not only led his fledgling party (formally
directed by Sergei Shoigu) to a stunning second place, but handily beat all
potential competitors in the opinion polls that register voter preferences in
next year's presidential elections.
The Western press, by and large, has hailed these results as positive on the
grounds that the new Duma will be more pro-government than the outgoing one
and, hence, more likely to cooperate with the executive. Pleasure was also
expressed with the fall of the Communist vote. Thus The Wall Street Journal
expressed satisfaction with the strong showing of the reformers, "54% of
[the] vote going to centrist or economically liberal parties" the Journal
said. The New York Times, a bit more cautious, on the whole also found the
An unrealized danger
It is true that the good showing of the pro-Kremlin parties enhance the
prospect of political stability. It is now possible that various reforms and
legislative bills, previously blocked, will pass; the ratification of Start
II is one of them.
But to this observer, at any rate, the negatives outweigh the positives. The
Communists are no longer a danger to Russia. They appeal largely to the
disgruntled older citizens and the rural poor. Their constituency is steadily
declining, and they form a permanent opposition party, much as once the case
with their namesakes in France or Italy. Moreover, they have abandoned calls
for a return to the Soviet regime, well aware that they are entirely
unrealistic because it would require a new revolution and civil war. They
have lost their bearings, vacillating between social democracy and the
aspiration to reconstruct the Soviet empire.
The real danger to Russia and the rest of the world is Russian nationalism,
which expresses not so much love of one's country and the willingness to
sacrifice one's private interests for its sake as it does anti-Western
xenophobia and imperial ambitions. The good showing of the Putin bloc would
have been heartening had Unity ran openly on a reform platform calling for an
end to lawlessness and corruption, accelerated privatization and cooperation
with the West.
But, in fact, it presented no electoral platform. It ran exclusively on
Putin's record as conqueror of Chechnya and the first statesman since the
collapse of the USSR openly to defy world opinion by asserting Russia's right
brutally to crush the rebellious province. Not long ago he declared that the
solution to Russia's economic difficulties lay in increasing the military
budget. Even more ominously he has recently hailed Russian secret police,
from the Cheka to the KGB, as having "always guarded Russia's national
interests." His ideal is Russia as a Great Power in the sense of a country
able to challenge the United States and bully its neighbors. This dangerous
program greatly appeals to Russians, 78% of whom tell pollsters they want
Russia to be a Great Power.
Strike one for nationalism
More noteworthy than the good showing of the pro-Kremlin bloc is the poor
showing of Yabloko, whose leader, Yavlinsky, had the temerity to criticize
the Chechnya campaign. The voters punished him by cutting his party's Duma
representation in half.
In Russia, communism is history. The future hovers between democracy and
aggressive nationalism. As of now, the latter is on the ascendant.
Richard Pipes is Research Professor of History at Harvard University. In
1981-82 he served as Director of East European and Soviet Affairs in the
National Security Council. He is a contributing editor of